Former Mexican defense secretary Gen. Salvador Cienfuegos, who led the country’s armed forces for six years under ex-President Enrique Peña Nieto, has been arrested at Los Angeles International Airport, Mexico’s top diplomat said Thursday.
Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard did not say on what charges Cienfuegos was detained. He wrote on his Twitter account that U.S. Ambassador Christopher Landau had informed him of the general’s arrest.
Ebrard wrote that Mexico’s Consul in Los Angeles would be informing him about the charges “in the next few hours,” and that Cienfuegos had a right to receive consular assistance. He did not specify if the general was arrested at the airport arriving or leaving the country
Cienfuegos served from 2012 to 2018 as secretary of defense under Peña Nieto. He is the highest-ranking former Cabinet official arrested since the top Mexican security official Genaro Garcia Luna was arrested in Texas in 2019. Garcia Luna, who served under former President Felipe Calderón, has pleaded not guilty to drug trafficking charges.
Cienfuegos is 72 years old and has retired from active duty. Mexico’s Defense Department had no immediate reaction to the arrest.
Whatever the charges, it will be a tough blow for Mexico where the army and navy are some of the few remaining respected public institutions.
While current President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has vowed to go after corruption and lawbreaking under past administrations, he has also relied more heavily on the army — and charged it with more tasks, ranging from building infrastructure projects to distributing medical supplies — than any other president in recent history.
Under Cienfuegos, the Mexican army was accused of frequent human rights abuses, but that was true of both his predecessors and his successor in the post.
The worst scandal in Cienfuegos’ tenure involved the 2014 army killings of suspects in a grain warehouse.
The June 2014 massacre involved soldiers who killed 22 suspects at the warehouse in the town of Tlatlaya. While some died in an initial shootout with the army patrol — in which one soldier was wounded — a human rights investigation later showed that at least eight and perhaps as many as a dozen suspects were executed after they surrendered.